One of my worst faults is my quick temper. I’ve been working hard to control my anger—by not expressing it, or even better, not feeling it.
The problem with that familiar advice about “counting to 10” is that I can never remember to do it. Here are some strategies that do work for me, when I manage to use them.
1. Don’t give in to my anger. Many people believe in the “catharsis hypothesis” and think that expressing anger is healthy-minded and relieves their feelings. Not so. Studies show that expressing anger only aggravates it. I’ve certainly found this to be true; once I get going, I can whip myself into a fury. It’s better to stay calm.
2. Let the sun go down on my anger. I tend to get irritated with the Big Man at night, probably because I’m tired. Now I force myself to wait until the next day to berate him about this or that. And the next morning, my anger is completely gone.
3. Accept blame. I hate being in the wrong, and often snap back when people find fault with something I’ve done. Now I really try to pause to ask myself, “Am I in the wrong?” and to respond with gentleness.
4. Ask: “Am I improving the situation?” This works especially well with the Big Girl. If I get angry with her, she has a complete melt-down. It’s unpleasant, but her reactions have sure helped me get better control of myself. Now, when I have the urge to snap, I think, “Is this going to help the situation?” And the answer is always NO.
5. Find “an area of refuge.” I lifted this phrase from a sign near an elevator at Yale Law School—it struck me as funny. Research shows that when people’s thoughts are unoccupied, brooding sets in. So I try to “find an area of refuge” in my mind; that is, to dwell on serene thoughts instead of brooding and fussing. Along the same lines…
6. Distract myself. Indulging in “overthinking”—dwelling on trifling slights, unpleasant encounters, and sadness—leads to bad feelings. I can enrage myself by obsessing on some petty annoyance. In what the Big Man calls the “downward spiral,” I begin to rail about every negative episode in recent memory. Now I deliberately distract my thoughts, usually by thinking about some writing question.
7. Ask: am I mad at myself? Martha Beck makes the interesting argument that we brood on other people’s faults when we subconsciously identify with them; what we condemn in other people is what we condemn in ourselves. So now when someone is making me angry, I ask myself, “Can I accuse myself of the same fault?” In a telling bit of psychology, I’ve noticed Beck’s observation to be very true for other people, but not so much for myself! Do I suspect a bit of self-denial might be going on…?
8. Laugh. Humor is the answer to everything (humor and exercise). Now when I absolutely can’t hold back my anger, I at least try to insert a joke, or make fun of myself, or assume a lighter tone as I rant on. So instead of sniping out a comment like “Can you PLEASE just answer my emails so I can deal with these horrible logistics issues?!” I might say something like, “I’m thinking of getting a homing pigeon that will fly to your office and rap on your window with its beak until you send me an answer.” The added advantage of this approach is that no matter how the other person responds, I feel less angry and more light-hearted when I adopt a lighter tone.
My resolution for this month is “Go the extra step.” As part of that, I’m trying to take extra steps to promote my blog – even when that means doing things that make me uncomfortable. (Like attaching this note to a few posts.)
One of the challenges of a blog is just letting people know that it’s there. And so I’m asking you for a big favor.
If you have the time and the inclination, it would be a huge help if you would email anyone you know who might enjoy this blog, to give them the link and tell them a bit about it. Word of mouth is very powerful.
My happiness research predicts that if you do this good deed, you’ll feel great! That’s the Samaritan effect: “do good, feel good.”